How and Why to Become a Rafting Guide

Most people are not aware how much work goes into being a rafting guide. Most guides spend their time on the river, but there is so much more for them to do behind-the-scenes. This article will share with you why becoming a rafting guide might be the right career path for you and some of the perks of this job!

The “how to become a white water rafting guide” is the best way to learn about the sport. To start, they must be 18 years old and have an outfitter’s license. A person can also work for one of these companies in order to gain experience.

Joe Cope is jumping over the rafting boat.

Today, we continue our So You Want My Job series, in which we speak with guys who work in attractive male occupations and ask them about the realities of their positions as well as tips on how men might achieve their goals.

Joe Cope was interviewed for this edition. Joe, a scientist and a whitewater rafting guide, is a close friend of AoM author Chris Hutcheson and a member of the Art of Manliness Community. While his day job as a scientist covers the money, whitewater rafting is his main passion. Joe illustrates that you can always create place in your life for what you’re passionate about, whether you’re a college student searching for a summer job or a 9-5 professional guy. We appreciate his sharing his enthusiasm for his work with the readers of AoM.

1. Tell us a bit about yourself (e.g., where do you come from?). What school did you attend? What is your age? Describe your job, including how long you’ve been doing it, and so on.

I was born and raised in Middletown, Ohio, a little town nestled between Cincinnati and Dayton. I was born and reared there until I went to Lee University in Cleveland, Tennessee, for college, where I currently reside. I am 24 years old and no longer in school. For the last three years, I’ve been a whitewater rafting guide on the upper and middle Ocoee River in Ocoee, Tennessee, and I’m looking forward to summer #4. Due of my full-time work, I only take several journeys (up to three on the middle part alone, up to two combined upper/middle excursions) on weekends. The river is open from Thursday through Monday (the rafting weekend is Tuesday and Wednesday). I just strive to offer customers the most aggressive, exciting ride possible, while still keeping them safe.

2. During the summer, you work as a whitewater rafting guide; what do you do the rest of the year? What do your fellow guides do for a living?

Of course, before I graduated, I was still a college student who could raft full-time during the summer. But, now that I’d graduated, I needed a “real” job to pay my expenses and so on. Schering-Plough Consumer Health Care employs me as a chemist. We’re a pharmaceutical firm that makes a variety of over-the-counter medications (Coppertone Sunscreens, Afrin nose sprays, Dr. Scholls products, etc.) Most of my rafting buddies work as teachers during the school year, so their schedules allow them to raft full-time during the summer. And, to be honest, I’m thinking about it. Many of my fellow guides are still in school, and I assume the rest of them fall into the following question’s group… As a side note, I’m attempting to become a full-time fireman, which would allow me to do a lot more rafting.

3. Is it feasible to turn a work as a whitewater rafting guide into a full-time position?

The Ocoee River is dam-controlled and administered by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), who have a defined timetable for when the river flows, therefore the river is essentially a trickling stream throughout the offseason (November – March), with the exception of a few unplanned releases. Many “career” guides (I suppose you could call them that) will relocate to a ski resort every year and teach ski lessons, while others may find odd occupations such as handicrafts, personal training, and so on. Because our outpost is situated on a lake with a marina, several of us have worked for the marina during the off season performing general maintenance and repairs, among other things.


4. Is becoming a whitewater rafting guide just the domain of young men? Is it just young men that do it, or are there older men who do it as well?

Ha. You may be amazed at how many elderly men (and women) still lead. There are still a lot of gruesome old guys out there, and I want to be one of them. I’ve always said that as long as I live in the neighborhood and my body allows me, I’ll work on that lovely river. There are a number of female guides as well. We have a few of them working for us, and I would say that they are among the greatest guides on the river, male or female.

Men enjoying rafting in the river.

5. What inspired you to pursue a career as a whitewater rafting guide? When did you realize it was something you wanted to do?

To be honest, I didn’t realize I could become a guide until I had been down here for three years. Kent, my very dear friend (and now kayaking companion; I’ve taken up kayaking as well), who had been a whitewater rafting guide for about ten years at the time, asked me, my girlfriend, and her sister (who is now married to Kent) if we wanted to be guides. That spring, we answered, “Hell yeah!” and began training. Learning the river took some time, but once I did, it seemed like I’d been doing it my entire life. That’s when I realized the Ocoee River was going to be my home, or at least a getaway. I’m in a state of flow while I’m out there. Even a terrible day on the river is preferable than a wonderful day elsewhere. About halfway through my first summer, I recognized this. That’s when I realized.

6. How should a guy prepare for a career as a whitewater rafting guide? What is the greatest way to get this job?

It’s as easy as filling out an application and signing a waiver at any of the rafting businesses. Rafting firms aren’t fussy when it comes to who they work with. The training procedure frequently filters out those who aren’t up to the task. Before training, I would recommend softly working out the arms a couple times a week to warm up the muscles, and as with everything else, a strong core is a must. Your abs are used more than you would imagine. The training period, which begins in mid-March and runs every weekend until Memorial Day, when the river opens five days a week, is where the majority of the preparation takes place. We go on two or more outings every Saturday and Sunday for ten to twelve weeks, in addition to swift water rescue training, rope tying, and other job-specific skills like loading and unloading boats on the bus. If you wish to be a guide but don’t know anybody who is already working, contact a rafting firm and ask for the river manager; they would be more than pleased to provide you with information.


7. Is it difficult to get work as a whitewater rafting guide?

It’s not so much about getting a job as it is about keeping a solid job, which I define as kayaking on a regular basis. Although I have seen it happen, it takes a LOT for a guide to get dismissed due to the generally laid-back attitude. It’s simple to get the job; all you have to do is train (everyone is permitted to train) and pass your “release trip.” A release trip entails the trainee piloting the raft down the river with a boat full of clients and one senior guide, who acts as a customer while monitoring the trainee. If the senior guide (and the other guides on the tour) believe the trainee is ready, they may begin taking clients on their own. Following that, it’s a matter of seniority as to who gets the most travels, with rookies often just receiving trips on weekends. When the busy season arrives, though, many novices walk up every day, even if they aren’t planned, to see if they might pick up a trip from a guide who could be leaving early. On a regular basis, we also receive walk-ins. In such situation, the trip is given to whichever unscheduled guide comes earliest, regardless of seniority.

8.What distinguishes one applicant from the others when looking for a job?

Experience on the river is unquestionably advantageous. One of our rookie guides from previous year had kayaked the Ocoee many times, so he breezed through training and was out on the water before any other rookie guide. The application procedure, on the other hand, is rather comprehensive. Again, the training process reveals who is capable of hacking it.

The rafting boat is lifted up due to back loading.

9.What is the most enjoyable aspect of your job?

Every day when I get out of bed, I travel east on US-64. Even a terrible day rafting is preferable than a good day in most other locations. However, there are a few rapids where we guides may change things up a little and show off. Part of it, for me, is the difficulty of doing these various maneuvers (“surfing” on a hydraulic wave, “popping up” or springing up at the crest of a large wave, like in the first photo, etc.). We flip the rafts on purpose a lot of the time if the clients don’t mind, of course. We also have the Olympic Course on the top part, which is where the Olympic Canoeing and Kayaking events were contested at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia. A quarter mile of constructed whitewater that is large, forceful, and class IV. That is unquestionably the highlight of a trip to the Upper Ocoee. There are a number of excellent mishaps (flipped rafts) there. It’s really rather entertaining to watch as long as no one gets harmed (and experience).

While I could have a terrific time rafting on the river by myself every day, nothing beats rafting with amazing people. I believe I speak for each rafting guide with any business when I say that the camaraderie I have with my fellow guides is invaluable. We are a unit. We look out for each other, mess with each other’s customers, and basically act like a bunch of kids together. We go to bluegrass shows together, cook out a few times each summer, and our boss throws a rockin Fourth of July party every year. We also hang out a lot outside of work. We go to bluegrass shows together, cook out a few times each summer, and our boss throws a rockin Fourth of July party every year, or we just sit around a fire on the I had supper with our river manager and a few other guides tonight. We’re having the time of our lives together, and it makes the job so much more enjoyable when you’re working with such wonderful individuals.


10 What is the most difficult aspect of your job?

This corresponds to the conclusion of the preceding question. Accidents happen all the time. They occur more often in less experienced guides, although they may also occur in guides with more than ten years of expertise. The river has a mind of her own at times. And sometimes, individuals are injured. Fortunately, no one has perished in over four years on the Ocoee River. However, if a raft flips accidently, passengers might be wounded or alarmed (again, it happens to everyone). When someone wants to leave the river in the middle of a trip, it breaks my heart. They are picked up by the bus driver, and they remain with him until the journey is completed. It’s happened to me a few times and it’s a difficult situation to deal with. Those individuals paid to have a nice time, and now they are afraid to continue. It’s a horrible sensation.

11. What is the most common misunderstanding about the job?

When most people think about rafting, they imagine huge waterfalls, ten-foot waves, and total chaos. While certain rivers are like that (the Zambezi in Africa, the Gauley in West Virginia, and portions of the Colorado, to name a few), the vast majority of rivers are controllable. Some individuals believe they are at the mercy of the river at all times. While this is true on occasion, it is not always the case. The Ocoee is quite safe while yet having the potential to become a wild ride. It all relies on the guide, what he or she is capable of, and what the consumers want. I’ve provided the “conservative” ride, in which we just go straight through with no acrobatics, and I’ve also flipped my raft four times in a two-hour trip. Because they’re the ones paying, I make every effort to tailor each trip to the specific group I’m taking.

People enjoying rafting in the river.

12. How do you strike a work-life balance?

It couldn’t have been much nicer when I was a student and all I had to do in the summer was raft. I got up in the morning and went to the river; if I had any excursions scheduled that day, I went rafting. I was generally home by 6:00 p.m. on weekdays at the latest. It was closer to 8:00 p.m. on weekends if performing two Upper/Middle journeys in one day, but it still left the evening free. Even if I didn’t have any excursions scheduled that day, I would go to the river to relax, kayak, or pick up trips if another guide offered one or if we had walk-ins. I only raft on weekends now that I work full-time, so during the high season (July – September), I’m practically working seven days a week, every week, with a few exceptions. I wouldn’t have it any other way, to be honest. Rafting is more of a release and a kind of recreation for me than it is a profession, so I have no qualms about doing it on any given weekend, particularly after a long week in the lab.


13. Do you have any other advice, recommendations, or anecdotes to share?

Listen to your guide, paddle hard, and believe what your guide says is the finest advise I could offer any potential client. Granted, we make errors, but your safety always comes first, and your enjoyment is a close second. As a potential guide, I strongly advise you to TRY IT! Don’t simply say to yourself, “Man, that would be amazing,” or “I wish I had time,” or anything like. Get up, get out there, and see what it takes if you’re near a rafting river. AND MAKE SURE YOU FOLLOW THROUGH. It is, without a doubt, the finest and most pleasurable job you will ever have.

I wish I could think of just one tale to share, but there are so many humorous and amazing things that happen in the world that it’s difficult to choose just one. But I’ll say this: buddy outings, or “fun runs,” are the most enjoyable activities. I’m just taking a bunch of pals out there to rip up the river, not paying customers. We’re going on a standard guided excursion, but there are no rules or limits. Everything will be alright as long as we return to the bus with the rest of the rafts. On those friend trips, we try to do the most heinous things possible, such as standing on the nose of the boat through a class IV rapid while only holding on to a strap, surfing for long periods of time, body surfing certain rapids, flipping the raft whenever possible, and I’ll even let my friends guide a few rapids. Go whitewater rafting if you’ve never done it before. If you’re still unsure, go to the Ocoee River in Southeast Tennessee and ask for Joe at Ocoee Inn Rafting. But, truly, rivers can be found just about everywhere… you just have to be seeking for adventure.



Watch This Video-

Rafting is a fun and exciting activity that can be dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing. Becoming a rafting guide is an excellent way to make money and enjoy the outdoors. Reference: raft guide course.

Frequently Asked Questions

How much does a rafting guide make?

A: A rafting guide makes anywhere from $800-$20,000 per year.

How long does it take to become a raft guide?

A: It is a lengthy process and involves many tests, both physically and mentally.

Is being a rafting guide hard?

A: Being a rafting guide is difficult as it requires lots of physical activity. It does require you to be in good shape and have some experience with the sport, but if you enjoy being outdoors then this could be for you!

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